Patrick Svitek

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge

"Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst arrested on domestic violence charge" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

Former Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst has been arrested and accused of domestic violence.

Dewhurst was arrested Tuesday evening in Dallas, according to Dallas police. He faces a misdemeanor charge of family violence.

Dewhurst was arrested after police responded to a disturbance at an address near Dallas Love Field Airport and met with a woman who said she had been assaulted by a male acquaintance, police said. Officers identified the man as Dewhurst, 75, and took him into custody.

Dewhurst was released from jail early Wednesday morning after posting a $1,000 bond, according to records from the Dallas County Sheriff's Department.

Dallas police said the Public Integrity Unit will investigate the incident.

Dewhurst was lieutenant governor from 2003-15. He unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2012, losing to Ted Cruz, and lost reelection as lieutenant governor in 2014 when Dan Patrick beat him in the Republican primary runoff.

Dewhurst's personal life made headlines last year, when his girlfriend was arrested twice, accused of kicking him and breaking two of his ribs in one of the cases. A grand jury decided not to indict her in connection with the first incident, according to KPRC-TV. Last week, charges were dropped in the second case, which involved the girlfriend allegedly throwing candle wax at him.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/14/david-dewhurst-arrest/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas GOP congressional candidate loses prominent supporters after racist comment about Chinese immigrants

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

A Republican candidate in the special election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, is facing intense backlash and has lost two of her biggest supporters after saying she does not want Chinese immigrants in the United States.

The comments by Sery Kim, a Korean American who served in the Small Business Administration under President Donald Trump, prompted California U.S. Reps. Young Kim and Michelle Steel to rescind their endorsements of her on Friday. Young Kim and Steel are the first Korean American GOP women to serve in Congress.

“We cannot in good conscience continue to support her candidacy," the lawmakers said in a statement.

The candidate has been unapologetic, however, arguing that she was speaking out against the Chinese Communist Party and blaming the "liberal media" for the uproar. She said she "will not back down from speaking the truth" about the party.

Sery Kim made the anti-Chinese remarks earlier this week at a GOP forum in Arlington while responding to a question about U.S. immigration issues.

“I don't want them here at all," Kim said of potential Chinese immigrants. “They steal our intellectual property, they give us coronavirus, they don't hold themselves accountable."

“And quite frankly, I can say that because I'm Korean," she added.

Hate crimes against Asian Americans have increased since the coronavirus pandemic started in China. Trump has repeatedly blamed China for the pandemic and called the coronavirus "the Chinese virus." Kim's remark came less than a month after the Atlanta spa shootings that killed eight people, six of whom were of Asian descent.

The comments have received condemnation from groups including the DFW Asian-American Citizens Council and AAPI Progressive Action, which works to build political power around Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Kim is one of 11 Republicans — and 23 candidates total — on the May 1 ballot to fill the GOP-leaning seat seat of Wright, who died earlier this year after being hospitalized with coronavirus.

Young Kim and Steel endorsed Sery Kim early on in the race, about a week after the filing deadline last month.

In their statement pulling their endorsements, the two lawmakers said they spoke Thursday with Sery Kim “about her hurtful and untrue comments about Chinese immigrants, and made clear that her comments were unacceptable."

“We urged her to apologize and clarify her remarks, especially as hate against the AAPI community is on the rise," the congresswomen said. “However, she has not publicly shown remorse, and her words were contrary to what we stand for."

Asked for a comment on the loss of the endorsements, Kim provided a statement that said: "I am shocked that in an effort to counter Asian-American hate the liberal media is targeting me, an Asian and an immigrant, in an effort to paint me as anti-Asian and anti-immigrant just for speaking against the oppressive Chinese Communist Party."

In the statement, Sery Kim went on to call the Chinese Communist Party the "foremost threat to the free world." She said she has received more "death threats and racist comments" since the forum controversy than she has in her entire life, and that the voters of the 6th District deserve "someone who will fight for them — who will literally put their life on the line for them."

Until this week, Sery Kim was not a particularly well-known candidate in the special election. The Republican field also features Wright's widow, GOP activist Susan Wright, as well as state Rep. Jake Ellzey of Waxahachie.

On the Democratic side, at least one contender, Lydia Bean, pushed back on Sery Kim's forum comments, saying they target people like her Chinese American husband, Norman, and their 10-month-old son. Norman's parents came to the United States from China in 1966, Bean said.

"This type of speech, no matter who it comes from puts their lives in danger," Bean, a 2020 Texas House candidate, tweeted Thursday. "It's racist, and it's not who we are in Texas."

Early voting for the special election starts April 19.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/04/03/sery-kim-texas/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Ted Cruz touts Trumpism in Florida while Biden visits Texas after storm leaves millions without power and potable water

Sen. Ted Cruz declares Trumpism among Republicans "ain't goin' anywhere" at Florida conference" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in a speech Friday at a major national conservative gathering, joked about his recent trip to Cancún during the Texas winter weather crisis and promised that former President Donald Trump would be a lasting force in the Republican Party.

Cruz appeared at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Florida, as President Joe Biden headed to Texas to see the state's recovery from last week's storm, which left millions of Texans without power and potable water. The Democratic president was set to be joined in Houston by the state's senior U.S. senator, John Cornyn, as well as Gov. Greg Abbott, both Republicans.

Cruz opened his CPAC speech by poking fun at his ill-timed visit to Cancún, which sparked a national uproar late last week. Cruz returned early from his trip, calling it a "mistake."

“I gotta say, Orlando is awesome. It's not as nice as Cancún," Cruz said, pausing amid laughter in the crowd. “But it's nice."

Cruz went on to use the address to rally Republicans against the Biden agenda and for the next two election cycles. At one point, he brought up Trump and said there were some in Washington D.C., who want to move on from him.

“Let me tell you this right now: Donald Trump ain't goin' anywhere," Cruz said, arguing the GOP has become the party of “not just the country clubs" but also blue-collar workers.

“That is our party and these deplorables are here to stay," Cruz added, referring to the term Hillary Clinton used to describe some of Trump's supporters in the 2016 presidential race.

Cruz led up to the declaration by referencing a report Thursday that an old intraparty nemesis, ex-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, told Cruz to “go f--k yourself" in an off-script moment while recording the audio version of his new memoir.

“Yesterday, John Boehner made some news," Cruz said. “He suggested that I do something that was anatomically impossible — to which my response was, 'Who's John Boehner?'"

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/02/26/ted-cruz-cpac-trump-cancun/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

How Ted Cruz's attempt to overturn Biden' win ended in violence at the US Capitol: analysis

Two nights before the Electoral College certification in Congress, Ted Cruz was in vintage form.

The junior U.S. senator from Texas was calling in to a friendly conservative radio host — Mark Levin — and setting up Wednesday's vote to be the kind of intraparty line in the sand that has powered his political rise.

By then, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had made clear that he opposed objections to certifying Joe Biden's election as the next president. But Cruz and 10 other GOP senators announced they would still object unless Congress agreed to an “emergency audit" of the presidential election results.

Cruz told Levin that there were some conservatives “who in good conscience" disagree with his view of Congress' role in certifying the presidential election results, and that he had talked to them and did not fault them. On the other hand, Cruz said, there were “some Republicans who are not conservatives but who are piously and self-righteously preening" when it comes to the issue.

In spearheading the group of objectors, Cruz arguably upstaged U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, who announced his plan to object three days earlier — and, like Cruz, is considered a potential 2024 presidential contender.

But on Wednesday, what Cruz might have thought was a savvy political play took an alarming turn: Supporters of President Donald Trump stormed and ransacked the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were considering Cruz's objection. Three people suffered medical emergencies during the siege and died; their deaths were in addition to another woman who was shot by a Capitol police officer.

Cruz denounced the violence but incurred a fierce backlash from critics in both parties, who said his drive to question the election results — and appease the president and his supporters ahead of a possible 2024 run — helped fan the flames of anger among Trump supporters. Prominent Texas Democrats called for him to resign. Many others suggested he'd played an inciting role in one of the darkest days in modern American history.

Politically, it was a high-stakes distillation of GOP tactics in the era of Trump.

“His challenge of the Electoral College votes helps him among core Trump supporters but risks further damaging his political standing among rank-and-file Republicans like moderates and suburban swing voters who have traditionally formed a stable winning coalition for Republicans in Texas and nationally," said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, who added, “Siding with Trump is risky."

In recent months, Cruz has positioned himself as one of the most prominent and vocal Trump supporters casting doubt on the election. Two days after Election Day, Cruz charged that Philadelphia officials were not allowing election observers to watch the counting of votes in the swing state, even though Trump's lawyers conceded that they had been allowed in the room.

In December, Trump asked Cruz if he would be willing to argue a long shot case filed by Attorney General Ken Paxton seeking to invalidate the election results in states like Pennsylvania in the event that it reached the U.S. Supreme Court. (Cruz agreed, but the high court ultimately said Texas did not have standing to bring the case.)

And in the days ahead of Wednesday's certification, Cruz raised concerns about how many people believed fraud had occurred in the election, without acknowledging the role he had played in encouraging those beliefs.

“We've seen in the last two months unprecedented allegations of voter fraud," Cruz said in an early January interview on Fox News. “And that's produced a deep, deep distrust of our democratic process across the country. I think we in Congress have an obligation to do something about that."

But people in both parties have questioned his motives.

“Proposing a commission at this late date — which has zero chance of becoming reality — is not effectively fighting for President Trump," U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, tweeted. “It appears to be more of a political dodge than an effective remedy."

As people stormed the Capitol building, Cruz insisted on Twitter that violence “is ALWAYS wrong" and called the attack a “despicable act of terrorism and a shocking assault on our democratic system."

“Those engaged in violence are hurting the cause they say they support," he said.

He did not, however, withdraw his objections to the Election Day results.

It didn't help that Cruz on Wednesday was fundraising off his Electoral College challenge, with some money-seeking texts hitting phones as Trump supporters wreaked havoc at the Capitol. (An aide to Cruz said the messages were sent “from a firm" and not approved by Cruz to be sent.) To Cruz's critics, including those within his own party, it was emblematic of the kind of naked political ambition that they have long abhorred about him.

“The Cruz effort had nothing to do with making some determination of whether or not there was fraud to reverse the outcome of the election and only to do with 2024 and the presidential primary," said Jerry Patterson, a Republican former state land commissioner who is open about his unhappiness with Trump, but conceded that he's voted for Cruz in past elections.

“That's why I could never get back into politics anymore. I'm sick and tired of the bullshit. And that's what it was," he said.

The episode not only gave fodder to Cruz's longtime intraparty detractors but also fellow Republicans.

“You have some senators who, for political advantage, were giving false hope to their supporters [and] misleading them to believe somehow yesterday's actions in Congress could reverse the results of the election," U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who is also seen as a possible 2024 contender, said in a TV appearance on Fox without directly naming Cruz. “That was never going to happen yet these senators, as insurrectionists literally stormed the Capitol, were sending out fundraising emails."

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, the GOP's 2012 nominee for president, raised similar frustrations on the Senate floor Wednesday night, without mentioning Cruz or other objectors by name.

“I ask my colleagues: Do we weigh our own political fortunes more heavily than we weigh the strength of our Republic, the strength of our democracy and the cause of freedom? What is the weight of personal acclaim compared to the weight of conscience?"

To be clear, Cruz received backup from his own party. While his initial coalition did not hold, he was still joined by several colleagues in objecting to the certification of the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Dozens of House members, including many Texans, also objected in both cases.

The state's senior senator, John Cornyn, split decisively from Cruz, announcing he would not object in a lengthy letter to Texans on Tuesday, specifically pooh-poohing Cruz's emergency audit proposal. That contrast in particular heartened some Cruz supporters.

“Ted Cruz will be a stronger force in the Texas GOP than John Cornyn because of the way he has handled the last 30 days and because he doesn't answer to the same political elite that Cornyn does," said Luke Macias, a consultant for some of the Texas Legislature's farthest-right members. “Democrats' insane calls for Cruz to step down have only made him politically stronger."

Democrats, meanwhile, were apoplectic over his role. Two of the state's best-known Democrats, Joaquin and Julián Castro, called on Cruz to resign, as did the state Democratic Party. Cruz's old nemesis Beto O'Rourke emailed supporters calling for “accountability and consequence" against the Texas senator, who defeated O'Rourke in a Senate race in 2018.

“Sen. Cruz, you must accept responsibility for how your craven, self-serving actions contributed to the deaths of four people yesterday. And how you fundraised off this riot," tweeted U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York. “Both you and Senator Hawley must resign. If you do not, the Senate should move for your expulsion."

In Cruz's Houston hometown, activists lined the streets on Thursday, calling for his resignation while standing outside of a downtown skyscraper that houses one of Cruz's offices.

But to detractors asking him to leave Congress, Cruz responded curtly Thursday afternoon, “Sorry, I ain't going anywhere."

While Cruz himself doesn't appear to have any regrets for his role in inciting an insurrection — on Thursday he said he would do it all over again if he had to — his colleagues might not easily forgive under a new presidential administration.

Patterson, for one, thinks Cruz's future political prospects hinge on where Republicans go in the next four years — and whether they remain loyal to Trump.

“There was a reset yesterday of politics in America — at least I hope and pray there was," Patterson said.

Disclosure: The University of Houston has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/01/07/ted-cruz-riot-capitol/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Here's why John Cornyn won't be joining the effort to overturn Biden's win

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced Tuesday that he isn't planning to object to the certification of the Electoral College vote in Congress, splitting with a growing number of GOP colleagues that most notably includes the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz.

In a lengthy letter to Texans, Cornyn noted that he has supported President Donald Trump's right to challenge election results in the courts but that Trump's lawsuits have gone nowhere, and recounts in multiple states have also failed to change the outcome. Trump has continued to push baseless claims of widespread fraud in the election, including at a campaign rally Monday night in Georgia.

"As a former judge, I view this process with the same impartial, evidence-based decision-making as I did my job on the bench," wrote Cornyn, a former justice on the Texas Supreme Court. “So, unless substantial, new evidence is presented during the challenges to each state's ballots, I will not object to the certification of that stave's election results based on unproven allegations."

"Allegations alone will not suffice," Cornyn said earlier in the letter. "Evidence is required."

Cornyn's position is not much of a surprise based on comments he has made in recent weeks expressing increasing skepticism about Trump's chances of overturning his loss to the president-elect, Joe Biden. But the letter marks Cornyn's most extensive explanation of his position yet, and it comes as Texas' other senator digs in on his plan, along with 10 other GOP senators, to object to the Wednesday certification of Biden's win unless they can secure an "emergency audit" of the November results.

A source familiar with Cruz's plans, but who was unauthorized to speak on the record, said that Cruz intends to specifically object to the certification of electors from Arizona. The news was first reported Tuesday by the Washington Post. Cruz told conservative radio host Mark Levin on Monday night that he did not want to "set aside the election ... but rather to press for the appointment of an electoral commission."

In his letter, Cornyn made clear he was not a fan of Cruz's audit proposal, which Cruz has said can be done in the 10 days before the inauguration. Cornyn suggested he too supports a review of election issues but something less hasty and more deliberate, such as an "independent commission" in the vein of the Commission on Federal Election Reform. That was a private bipartisan panel that looked into problems with the 2000 and 2004 elections.

"As to timing and practicality of an emergency audit, I am much more dubious," Cornyn said. "The design of the proposed commission to conduct such an 'audit' will inevitably fail."

Cornyn and Cruz are in very different positions politically. Cornyn is coming off a reelection victory in November that secured him another six-year term in the Senate, while Cruz has an eye toward 2024, when any presidential contender will likely need to stay in the good graces of Trump and his supporters.

Trump dinged Cornyn on Tuesday afternoon, tagging him in a tweet that told the "weak and ineffective RINO section of the Republican Party" to heed his supporters' wishes for an election reversal. (RINO stands for "Republican In Name Only.") Trump also tagged two other senior Senate Republicans: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Whip John Thune, who previously incurred Trump's wrath for dismissing some House Republicans' intentions to dispute the Electoral College outcome.

Nearly half of the 23 Texas Republicans in the House have promised to object to the certification. At least four announced their intentions Tuesday: Reps. Jodey Arrington of Lubbock, John Carter of Round Rock, Troy Nehls and Ron Wright of Arlington.

Carter, Nehls and Wright all represent districts that national Democrats targeted in November, though each won their races by comfortable margins. Nehls was sworn in to Congress on Sunday after winning the hard-fought fall election to replace former U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who did not seek another term.

"You sent me to Congress to fight for President Trump and election integrity and that's exactly what I'm doing," Nehls wrote on Facebook.

The other Texas Republicans in the House who have said they will object to the certification are Reps. Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Lance Gooden of Terrell, August Pfluger of San Angelo, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Pete Sessions of Waco, Brian Babin of Woodville and Ronny Jackson, the former Trump White House doctor who represents the Panhandle.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/01/05/john-cornyn-texas-republican-election-certification/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

Texas GOP chair who assumed role after facing backlash for racist Facebook post resigns

"Harris County GOP chair who assumed role after facing backlash for racist Facebook post resigns" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The head of the Republican Party in Texas' largest county has resigned after less than four months on the job.

Keith Nielsen, chairman of the GOP in Harris County, home to Houston, submitted a letter of resignation and the party's secretary, Josh Flynn, said he received it Monday morning. The party did not immediately release the letter, but Flynn said Nielsen stepped down for "personal reasons."

Nielsen was engulfed in controversy before he even became chairman. He won the job in March, but as he prepared to take office this summer, he faced widespread condemnation for posting a Facebook graphic juxtaposing a Martin Luther King Jr. quote with a banana, which could be read as an allusion to equating Black people with monkeys, a well-worn racist trope. He initially said he would forfeit the job but reneged, taking office in early August.

Nielsen's resignation is effective immediately, according to Rolando Garcia, a member of the party's advisory board. The county party's executive committee will meet Dec. 14 to pick Nielsen's successor, Flynn said.

One potential candidate is the party's current vice chair, Kevin Fulton. He briefly ran for chair this summer when it looked like Nielsen would not take office.

Once a battleground, Harris County has become increasingly blue in recent elections. President-elect Joe Biden carried it by 13 percentage points in the Nov. 3 election, a slightly larger margin than Hillary Clinton did four years earlier.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/30/harris-county-gop-chair-resign/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

Here are 5 things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas: analysis

"Five things to watch on Election Day 2020 in Texas" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

It's finally Election Day.

After months of campaigning and prognosticating — all during a pandemic — Texas is playing host to a series of high-stakes contests up and down the ballot, from a presidential race that could be the state's closest in a generation to the fight for the Texas House majority. And it is all coming after an early voting period that saw turnout exceed the number of votes for the entire 2016 election. After 9.7 million people voted early, some experts believe Texas might be on a path to potentially surpass 12 million voters when all is said and done.

Texas has attracted intense national interest in recent weeks, and in one sign of it, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, spent the day before the election traveling the state.

“The road to the White House runs through Texas, and the road to a Senate majority runs straight through the great state of Texas, and that's why I'm proud to be here, folks," Perez said Monday morning in San Antonio.

Hours later, as he finished a six-day bus tour in Dripping Springs, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn recognized two of the factors making for a dramatic end to the general election in Texas: the massive early voting turnout and a late surge in outside Democratic spending against both him and President Donald Trump. Cornyn said the 9.7 million early voters are a “wonderful thing" but added that “about a million of them have never voted in a primary general election, so that's going to be an interesting mystery."

“We've never seen such an unprecedented amount of out-of-state money coming into Texas this election," said Cornyn, speaking from the balcony of his campaign bus surrounded by down-ballot candidates. “Every single Republican up here is being outspent by our opposition."

A reminder: The number of Texas voters casting absentee ballots has risen sharply due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the outcome of some key races may not be known Tuesday night as a result.

That being said, here are five of the biggest storylines to watch.

Can Joe Biden actually win Texas?

A Democrat hasn't won Texas' electoral votes since 1976, but statewide polls show a highly competitive race.

If Biden can turn voters out and flip the state, it would be a massive event in state and American politics — and would almost certainly mean a Biden victory nationwide.

A Democratic win in Texas could hinge on Hispanic and suburban voters. On Friday, Biden's running mate, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, made a last-minute stop in McAllen with Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro. When asked by a reporter there why she was visiting the border city, Harris said it was “because there are people here who matter, people who are working hard, people who love their country, and we need to be here and be responsive to that." (Trump hasn't done any general-election campaigning in Texas, though national surveys have shown Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing.)

Texas' fast-changing suburbs, meanwhile, have been steadily slipping out of Republicans' grip over the last few election cycles. On Tuesday, Democrats are hoping to pick up several congressional and state House seats in these regions and build on the suburban strength they garnered in 2018 to undercut Trump's advantage in rural areas of the state.

Of the 1.8 million newly registered voters the state gained between 2016 and 2020, most of them are in large urban and suburban counties. The big cities are dominated by Democrats. Meanwhile, traditionally Republican suburban counties like Denton, Williamson and Collin are trending more blue.

Will the Texas House flip?

After gaining 12 seats in 2018, Democrats are nine away from the majority in the Texas House. Flipping the chamber would unlock a major prize for the party: more influence in the 2021 redistricting process.

While Democrats have to defend the dozen seats they picked up, they are confident about those races and have cast a wide net on offense, designating as many as 22 pickup opportunities. At the core of that battlefield are the nine seats that O'Rourke won in 2018 that are still represented by Republicans.

The battle for the lower chamber has become a hugely expensive affair, attracting tens of millions of dollars from statewide and national groups. On the latest campaign finance reports alone, covering Sept. 25 through Oct. 24, candidates across 34 battleground districts combined to raise $39.4 million, including in-kind donations, and spend $22.3 million.

Gov. Greg Abbott, who is not up for reelection until 2022, has made the state House fight his top political priority this election cycle. His campaign has spent over $6 million on down-ballot races this fall, according to a memo sent Monday to state House Republicans.

Abbott has also visited a handful of battleground districts recently to knock doors. On Saturday, Abbott was in House District 121, where state Rep. Steve Allison, R-San Antonio, is fighting for reelection after winning the seat by 9 points just two years ago.

Still, Democratic optimism about capturing the House majority has only grown in the homestretch. In one sign that the party anticipates being in control come January, three Democratic members have announced in recent days that they are running for speaker.

How many U.S. House seats will Democrats pick up?

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to Texas in March 2019 and declared the state would be “ground zero" for Democrats in 2020. They have made good on her promise, at least when it comes to the congressional battlefield here.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has built a Texas target list that includes 10 GOP-held districts, more seats than the committee is working to flip anywhere else in the country. In all but two of the 10 districts, the DCCC has added the Democratic nominee to its Red to Blue program for top candidates.

National Republicans, meanwhile, have targeted the two seats they lost in 2018, those held by Democratic U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston.

With Allred and Fletcher well positioned for reelection, most of the action has centered on the Democrats' targets, and four of them in particular at this point: the 21st District, where Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, is up for reelection; the 22nd District, where Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, is retiring; the 23rd District, where Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is not seeking reelection; and the 24th District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, is also vacating the seat.

That is not to say Democrats are not seeing promise in other targeted districts. As an example, they have grown optimistic in the homestretch about the 3rd District, where Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is running for reelection in the kind of highly educated suburban district that has swung away from Trump.

Can John Cornyn dispatch a late Democratic spending blitz?

Cornyn, a Republican, has long had a polling lead — if small at times — in his reelection campaign. But the race is ending on a less certain note amid an 11th-hour spending spree by Democratic outside groups that even Cornyn admits is concerning.

Senate Majority PAC, Future Forward and EMILY's List combined to dump eight figures into the contest during early voting, seeing a late opportunity to unseat Cornyn and elect his Democratic opponent, MJ Hegar. The president of EMILY's List, Stephanie Schriock, told reporters Friday that the contest has become a “late-breaking race" and that with Texas' huge early voting turnout, “we feel like we've got a real path here to victory."

A pro-Cornyn super PAC has ratcheted up its spending in recent days, but it has not been able to match the Democratic coalition dollar for dollar.

Both Cornyn and Hegar hit the road hard in the lead-up to Tuesday. Hegar, the former Air Force helicopter pilot, joined Harris for her three stops Friday across Texas and then headed out on her own, visiting Austin, Del Rio, Laredo, San Antonio, Webster, Arlington and Dallas.

Cornyn, meanwhile, went on the bus tour, which began Wednesday. He swung through 21 cities through Monday, which included three stops that day with the state's junior senator, Ted Cruz, who warned in Dripping Springs that the state is “under assault" and asked Republicans to “fight back the socialist horde that is attacking our state."

How high can Texas turnout get — and when will all the votes be counted?

There were 9.7 million early voters in Texas, exceeding the 9 million who voted in the entire 2016 election. Now the question is this: Just how high will total turnout go Tuesday?

Many political observers are bracing for a turnout north of 12 million, which would be uncharted territory in Texas politics.

Just how uncharted? Consider this: A turnout of over 12 million would be more than two and a half times that of the last time Cornyn was on the ballot, in 2014.

Across the country, election officials are preparing for a longer-than-usual wait time for full results due to adjustments made as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. However, that could be less of a factor in Texas, which declined to expand mail-in voting and lets counties begin counting absentee ballots before Election Day.

Still, more down-ballot races are in play than in recent memory in Texas, and there is the possibility that multiple outcomes are not confidently known until every last ballot is counted. In Texas, absentee ballots count as long as they are postmarked by 7 p.m. on Election Day and received by the county elections office by 5 p.m. the next day. Counties can also accept overseas military ballots through Nov. 9.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/03/texas-elections-what-to-watch/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

"Rural Texans have long helped Republicans. Will that hold true on Tuesday?" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Rural Texas saved Ted Cruz in 2018. Will it save Donald Trump on Tuesday?

That is one of the defining questions as Texas barrels toward what could be its closest presidential race since 1976 — or the first time the state picks a Democratic presidential nominee since then.

The story of Texas politics in 2020 is about the cities becoming bluer, the suburbs becoming more competitive and the Latino vote rising — but it is also about a rural firewall that has kept Republicans in power for so long. Rural areas of the state have historically been Republicans' strongest line of defense in Texas as polls show suburbs — even in traditionally red areas — shifting toward Democrats. But with the state's changing demographics and a noticeable surge of Democratic energy in deep Trump country, there's an open question of whether Republicans can hold onto these districts with the same large margins they did in 2016.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who chairs Trump's reelection campaign in Texas, called into a Lubbock radio show Thursday with an explicit appeal to rural Texans.

“The margins will depend on all of our great friends and our patriots in West Central and East Texas who say, 'I don't want the president just to win, I want him to stomp the Democrats here 75-25,'" Patrick told host Chad Hasty. “And the bigger rural Texas [votes] will determine the final margin he wins by — is it 4? Is it 6? Is it 8? Is it 3?"

In 2018, Cruz needed the state's rural counties to fend off a blockbuster challenge by Democrat Beto O'Rourke. The former El Paso congressman defeated Cruz 51% to 48% in the non-rural counties, which Trump carried by 3 points in 2016. But Cruz held strong in the rural counties and carried them 75% to 24%, nearly identical to Trump's margin in them two years earlier.

No one expects Smith County, which includes Tyler, to flip to Democratic control after Trump bested Hillary Clinton by more than 67 percentage points in 2016. And no one doubts the passion of GOP voters in red enclaves across the historically Republican counties across Texas and the South. Texas is dominated by Republicans in all levels of state government.

The problem for Republicans is that rural Texas is making up a shrinking share of the statewide vote as population growth largely favors the cities and suburbs. Rural counties contributed 13% of the statewide vote in 2014, 12% in 2016 and 11% in 2018.

And the GOP dominance has not gone unanswered in rural Texas, where Democrats have made investments to at least cut down on their deficits there.

“Republicans are in trouble out here," said Stuart Williams, the West Texas organizer for the Texas Democratic Party. “Trump won in places like Lubbock in 2016 at the lowest level that any Republican had won since 1996. And that was four year ago before we all saw ... what can happen to our country."

Biden's campaign has made some overtures to rural Texas. In mid-October, the campaign hosted a “Rural Texas Community Conversation" with Tom Vilsack, the former U.S. agriculture secretary and Iowa governor. And the campaign did a three-day surrogate bus tour last week whose first three stops were in Amarillo, Lubbock and Abilene. (The tour was derailed Friday after a highway skirmish with Trump supporters south of Austin.)

The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump group run by former Republican operatives, has also sought to help Biden in rural Texas. In early October, the organization announced a $1 million ad campaign called “Operation Sam Houston" that was aimed at over 600,000 suburban and rural Republican women in Texas.

The divide between rural and non-rural Texas does not just matter for the presidential race. It is poised to factor into other statewide contests, including those for U.S. Senate and a seat on the Railroad Commission, which regulates the Texas oil and gas industry.

In the U.S. Senate election, Republican incumbent John Cornyn has been prioritizing more conservative, rural parts of the state in the closing days of his reelection campaign. He is in the middle of a statewide bus tour whose itinerary is largely filled with cities like Wichita Falls and Tyler.

“We're counting on you," Cornyn said Thursday in Tyler. “We're depending on Tyler, Smith County and East Texas to win this."

Cornyn's Democratic rival, MJ Hegar, said Saturday she was “not concerned at all" about a repeat of 2018, when rural Texas rescued an otherwise vulnerable Republican U.S. senator.

“I grew up in rural Texas, and I know what rural Texas needs," said Hegar, who was raised in Williamson County — north of Austin — when it was less suburban than it is today. “It's why I'm running for office. Rural Texas is hurting because of a lack of access to education and health care, two of the biggest employers in rural Texas. Rural agricultural Texas is hurting because of the China trade war that we're losing right now because of ineffective leadership from the top down."

Democrats say they are also appealing to rural voters with issues such as broadband internet access. Republicans, meanwhile, say their rural voters are energized by Trump's follow-through on campaign promises to restrict abortion and appoint conservative judges.

Republican congressional nominees who do not have competitive races, many from rural areas, have nonetheless hit the campaign trail hard this fall to try to maximize their district's vote for Trump. Right after securing the GOP nomination for the 4th District at a convention in August, Pat Fallon gave a speech in which he said Republicans in the largely rural northeast Texas district “need to make sure we run the score up in CD-4 so we can help President Trump carry this state and save our country."

It's also the mission of Ronny Jackson, the former White House doctor who is set to become the next congressman from Texas' 13th District, the reddest in the country. While Jackson's election is all but guaranteed Tuesday, he said he has been impressing upon voters that they still need to show up for Trump.

“I think it's going to be absolutely crucial," Jackson said. “Texas 13, 19, 11 — these three big rural [congressional] districts out here in West Texas and the Texas Panhandle, we really are the firewall that keeps Texas red. It's just overwhelmingly Republican out here ... and that really does make a difference statewide."

Among Democrats, there's optimism that Biden-backing allies in rural Texas could not only prevent Trump from recreating his overwhelming 2016 margins in white, working class areas, the kind of support that offset his losses in the suburbs and among voters of color four years ago, but also make Trump's path to victory in Texas all the more difficult.

“I'm also seeing a pretty substantial uptick in folks volunteering with Democratic-adjacent organizations," said Amy Hull, 42, who lives in Tarrant County. “It's been interesting to see people who were pretty tuned out four years ago become unapologetic about their politics and determined to do everything possible to make our community, state and country government work better for everyone."

Republicans could especially take heart in rural areas that have only grown more red in recent election cycles. Take for example Jones County, which includes part of Abilene and went for John McCain by 47 points in 2008, Mitt Romney by 55 points in 2012 and Trump by 65 points in 2016.

The county GOP chair, Isaac Castro, said there is “a lot more enthusiasm" for Trump in Jones County compared to four years ago, when some local Republicans had reservations about his conservative credentials.

“I really think that this year he's probably going to do better," Castro said, adding that he was not worried about Trump losing statewide. “You know, West Texas is going to be strong for him again."

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/11/02/texas-rural-republicans-2020/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House

"National Democratic super PAC says it will double its spending to $12 million in battle for the Texas House" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

The national Democratic super PAC Forward Majority is doubling its spending to flip the Texas House, bringing its commitment to over $12 million.

The political action committee said in early September that it would drop $6.2 million to help Democrats capture the majority. But in an announcement first shared with The Texas Tribune, Forward Majority said it is now surging its spending to keep up with Republicans in the homestretch of the fight to control the lower chamber ahead of the 2021 redistricting process.

The Republican State Leadership Committee, the chief national GOP group focused on state legislative races, had vowed to top Forward Majority's initial $6.2 million investment, and it raised $5.3 million into a Texas-based account between July 1 and late September. Of that haul, $4.5 million came via GOP megadonor Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam.

"The RSLC and Karl Rove aren't going to call the shots in Texas in this election," Forward Majority spokesperson Ben Wexler-Waite said in a statement, alluding to both the national GOP outfit and a state-level PAC with which Rove, the famous party strategist, is working. "Republicans are hemorrhaging millions on Texas state house races because they know their majority is in grave jeopardy and that this is the most important state in the country for redistricting."

Democrats are nine seats away from the majority, and they also have to defend the 12 seats they picked up in 2018. Forward Majority has been exclusively on offense, targeting its original $6.2 million effort at 18 Republican-held seats.

Forward Majority said its spending surge was prompted by millions of dollars in TV ad buys by Republicans in some of the most competitive districts, such as those of Republican Reps. Jeff Leach of Plano, Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Morgan Meyer of Dallas and Sarah Davis of Houston. In two of those districts — Meyer's and Davis' — Forward Majority is teaming up with Everytown for Gun Safety, the national anti-gun violence group, to try to counter increased GOP ad spending.

The ramped-up spending plan by Forward Majority reflects just how fiercely competitive the fight for the majority has become. While Democrats had plenty to boast about on the latest campaign finance reports, Republicans in general had more money to spend heading into late September, and they are getting seven-figure aid in the final weeks from not just the RSLC but also Gov. Greg Abbott's campaign.

"We've long seen several paths to flipping the Texas House and we will continue to do everything we can to ensure Democratic legislative candidates aren't drowned out by millions in special interest money," Wexler-Waite said.

Disclosure: Everytown for Gun Safety has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/10/20/texas-house-super-pac/.

The Texas Tribune is proud to celebrate 10 years of exceptional journalism for an exceptional state. Explore the next 10 years with us.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.